FACTS: On October 15, 2004, Jose Marcel Panlilio, Erlinda Panlilio, Nicole Morris and Mario Cristobal (petitioners), as corporate officers of Silahis International Hotel, Inc. (SIHI), filed with the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Manila, Branch 24, a petition for Suspension of Payments and Rehabilitation in SEC Corp. Case No. 04-111180.

On October 18, 2004, the RTC of Manila, Branch 24, issued an Order staying all claims against SIHI upon finding the petition sufficient in form and substance. The pertinent portions of the Order read:

Finding the petition, together with its annexes, sufficient in form and substance and pursuant to Section 6, Rule 4 of the Interim Rules on Corporate Rehabilitation, the Court hereby:

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2) Stays the enforcement of all claims, whether for money or otherwise and whether such enforcement is by court action or otherwise, against the debtor, its guarantors and sureties not solidarily liable with the debtor.

At the time, however, of the filing of the petition for rehabilitation, there were a number of criminal charges pending against petitioners in Branch 51 of the RTC of Manila. These criminal charges were initiated by respondent Social Security System (SSS) and involved charges of violations of Section 28 (h) of Republic Act 8282, or the Social Security Act of 1997 (SSS law), in relation to Article 315 (1) (b) of the Revised Penal Code, or Estafa. Consequently, petitioners filed with the RTC of Manila, Branch 51, a Manifestation and Motion to Suspend Proceedings. Petitioners argued that the stay order issued by Branch 24 should also apply to the criminal charges pending in Branch 51. Petitioners, thus, prayed that Branch 51 suspend its proceedings until the petition for rehabilitation was finally resolved.

On December 13, 2004, Branch 51 issued an Order denying petitioners’ motion to suspend the proceedings. It ruled that the stay order issued by Branch 24 did not cover criminal proceedings.

ISSUE: WON THE CRIMINAL PROCEEDING MAY BE SUSPENDED BY A STAY ORDER ISSUED BY A REHABILITATION COURT. 

HELD: NO. Petitioners are charged with violations of Section 28 (h) of the SSS law, in relation to Article 315 (1) (b) of the Revised Penal Code, or Estafa. The SSS law clearly “criminalizes” the non-remittance of SSS contributions by an employer to protect the employees from unscrupulous employers. Therefore, public interest requires that the said criminal acts be immediately investigated and prosecuted for the protection of society. cDEICH

The rehabilitation of SIHI and the settlement of claims against the corporation is not a legal ground for the extinction of petitioners’ criminal liabilities. There is no reason why criminal proceedings should be suspended during corporate rehabilitation, more so, since the prime purpose of the criminal action is to punish the offender in order to deter him and others from committing the same or similar offense, to isolate him from society, reform and rehabilitate him or, in general, to maintain social order. As correctly observed in Rosario, it would be absurd for one who has engaged in criminal conduct could escape punishment by the mere filing of a petition for rehabilitation by the corporation of which he is an officer.

The prosecution of the officers of the corporation has no bearing on the pending rehabilitation of the corporation, especially since they are charged in their individual capacities. Such being the case, the purpose of the law for the issuance of the stay order is not compromised, since the appointed rehabilitation receiver can still fully discharge his functions as mandated by law. It bears to stress that the rehabilitation receiver is not charged to defend the officers of the corporation. If there is anything that the rehabilitation receiver might be remotely interested in is whether the court also rules that petitioners are civilly liable. Such a scenario, however, is not a reason to suspend the criminal proceedings, because as aptly discussed in Rosario, should the court prosecuting the officers of the corporation find that an award or indemnification is warranted, such award would fall under the category of claims, the execution of which would be subject to the stay order issued by the rehabilitation court. The penal sanctions as a consequence of violation of the SSS law, in relation to the revised penal code can therefore be implemented if petitioners are found guilty after trial. However, any civil indemnity awarded as a result of their conviction would be subject to the stay order issued by the rehabilitation court. Only to this extent can the order of suspension be considered obligatory upon any court, tribunal, branch or body where there are pending actions for claims against the distressed corporation.

On a final note, this Court would like to point out that Congress has recently enacted Republic Act No. 10142, or the Financial Rehabilitation and Insolvency Act of 2010. Section 18 thereof explicitly provides that criminal actions against the individual officer of a corporation are not subject to the Stay or Suspension Order in rehabilitation proceedings, to wit:

The Stay or Suspension Order shall not apply:

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(g) any criminal action against individual debtor or owner, partner, director or officer of a debtor shall not be affected by any proceeding commenced under this Act.

Withal, based on the foregoing discussion, this Court rules that there is no legal impediment for Branch 51 to proceed with the cases filed against petitioners.

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